January 2015

Monthly Message from Lee & Pearl

It's a brand new year, and we have so many new things to tell you about: a new FREE pattern, a new fabric & trim kit, TWO new tutorials, and even a new FREE printable to share with our favorite newsletter subscribers. So, let's get started — or as we might say in Paris, "Allons-y... !"

We love, love, love the Parisian theme and baking business storyline of the new American Girl® Girl of the Year® collection. We also love the chic, retro-gamine styles currently shown by high-end French children's lines like Catimini, Petit Bateau and Jacadi. We are thrilled to combine those loves in our new 2015 FREE Pattern for subscribers — Pattern #1033: Bonjour, Paris Mini Wardrobe for 18" Dolls.

The top, dress, shorts and apron in this pattern fit perfectly into the Grace Thomas® collection — or into the closet of any doll who dreams of strolling boulevards, visiting morning markets, and enjoying a flaky pastry or two at a charming café.

The classic top, which can also be made in dress length, features neatly stitched front pleats, inverted pleats on the sleeves, and a ladylike rolled collar embellished with buttons, bows, ribbon flowers or anything else you choose. We've even included photo-illustrated directions to make your own perfect bows using a fork.

The tailored, canvas-look shorts feature working hip pockets, optional cuffs and a front fly closure. Our carefully drafted waistband curves subtly higher in back than in front for a snug fit while your doll is standing — and a safe, no-gap fit when she sits.

The perfect accessory for every 18" French chef or baker, our chef's apron features a flattering fit, generous double pocket and neat bias tape binding. We've also included directions to make your own bias binding out of ordinary woven fabric.

The top, dress and shorts in this pattern are rated EASY/INTERMEDIATE for the pleats and a few curved seams. The chef's apron is rated EASY, though the bias tape binding application should be performed with care. As an added bonus, we've included a pattern piece for making a super-quick version of the shorts without pockets. As always, Lee & Pearl's photo-illustrated directions and computer-drafted, guaranteed-to-fit-together pattern pieces make every step as easy as possible.

If you are already a mailing list subscriber, the download information for this FREE pattern will be in your newsletter email.

If you are a NEW mailing list subscriber, you will receive the download information in a "welcome" email.

If you are not yet a subscriber, and are reading this in our Newsletter Archive — hello and welcome! Now you should go SIGN UP to receive your FREE pattern today.

(If you are signed up, and haven't received the download information, please let us know at info@leeandpearl.com and we'll get everything straightened out as soon as possible.)

The garments in this pattern use materials you probably already have on hand: ordinary woven fabrics like medium weight quilting cotton or Kona® cotton for the shorts and apron, and shirtings, voile, gingham or lightweight quilting cotton for the top and dress. But for an extra "Grace-ful" touch, we've put together a collection of six fat quarters — three bright solids, two classic prints and a culinary-appropriate black-and-white mini check, as well as bias binding, ribbons and ribbon flowers — that perfectly match the colors and fun-but-ladylike Parisian style of the current Girl of the Year® collection. We give kudos to the American Girl® designers for choosing such a unique palette, and not simply trotting out the same yearly fashion forecast colors as everyone else. That did mean, however, that these were not easy fabrics to find. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

You can purchase this limited edition Bonjour, Paris Fabric & Trim Kit in the Fabric & Trim Kits section of our Etsy store.

Tutorial: Pull Up A Chair (a Question of Scale)

In the first week of January, we launched the Lee & Pearl YouTube Channel and our craft-meister "Lee" has been hard at work on tutorials ever since! Be sure to subscribe to the channel, because with the New Year and the new Girl, we've got lots of new ideas...

Before we publish some of the more complicated tutorial projects, we want to talk about three basic concepts that can take your DIY projects a notch above the rest. Those concepts are SCALE, COLOR and FINISH.

We're going to start with a pretty bold statement. When creating DIY crafts or purchasing accessories for a doll, SCALE is the single most important design element to consider.

The masterful handling of scale is one element that sets the American Girl® doll products apart from their competition. Yes, 2015 Girl of the Year® Grace Thomas® has a quality bistro set with chair and table made out of wood and metal, not plastic. These items will stand up to years of play. But all that quality would be wasted if the dolls and their world weren’t also so beautifully designed to scale.

If you plan to create or collect your own equally fine accessories — and we look forward to helping you do so in future tutorials — it is important to understand exactly what scale these dolls really are before you begin.

In her book, Grace Thomas® is nine years old. The average nine-year-old girl is about four and a half feet tall, while the doll is 18” tall. That makes Grace 1/3 — or 33.3% — the height of a real girl. That's why 1/3 is often the answer people give when asked about 18" doll scale.

But is 1/3 really the right scale for these dolls? As you can see from our photo of three chairs — the smallest of which is Grace's AG® Bistro Chair — the 1/3 scale chair on the left looks cartoonishly large next to the doll. How is it possible that the "right" scale looks so wrong? And why do all those wonderfully proficient American Girl® furniture and accessory designers produce furniture and accessories that are nowhere near 1/3 scale?

This is because American Girl® dolls, like Grace, function in multiple scales at the same time. Different parts of their bodies have different comparative sizes. For example, Grace's head is over 50% the size of a real nine-year-old child's head. Because of her great, big (and entirely charming) noggin, Grace's body is shortened. The scale of her head may be over 50%, but the scale of her body is only 30%. If you are designing a hat for Grace, you have to consider the larger scale. If you are designing furniture, though, the smaller scale comes into play.

There are other reasons to keep doll furniture and accessories small in scale. Let's be honest: reproducing a doll's world at 1/3 scale would take up way too much room. Very few of us have ballrooms in which to set our children loose to play. But there's an aesthetic reason for making the doll slightly larger than the world around her as well: a large doll looks important, and maybe a little older. These dolls are aspirational — meant to be something the girls look up to and aspire to become. Very few little girls aspire to be younger. Scaling the supposedly nine-year-old dolls to look a little more like twelve-year-olds might make them more appealing to real nine-year-olds.

With all this in mind, let's take a look at the impressive use of scale Mattel® brought to the set we'll be showing you how to reproduce in future tutorials: Graces' Bistro Set.

The table in the Bistro Set matches our calculations perfectly at 30% scale (8 5/8" high, compared to around 30" for a real table). But the chair is only at 25% scale (4 1/2" seat height, compared to around 17"). Why the variation? If you look at our photo of the set below, you can see that the AG® chair (on the right) does look small compared to a wooden chair (on the left) that we found and painted to match. The wooden chair has the same 30% scale as the table, and it looks great. Did Mattel® mess this one up? Did somebody scribble the wrong measurement on an order sheet...?

Perhaps not. As any nine-year-old knows — though we grown-up collectors can sometimes forget — a doll chair is meant for sitting. As soon as we sit our doll in these two chairs, all becomes clear. When a person sits, their hips rotate with their legs. When a doll sits, her legs rotate — but her hips don't move. Because of this, 18" dolls appear taller than they actually are when they sit.

As you can see from this picture, when seated in the 30% scale chair, Grace's torso looms over the table top — her waistband is significantly over the edge. Nobody sits like that. To get Grace's table to hit her body at a more natural level when she is sitting, her AG® chair seat has been dropped:

It's not by much — only about 3/4 of an inch — but it makes a difference. We haven’t talked to any American Girl® designers about this, so it might be a happy accident. But we doubt it. This is genius. And this is why we shell out $85 for a toy set. It also helps that the AG® designers have given the chair a slanted back for a more relaxed sitting position, and armrests to keep the doll firmly in place.

As DIY doll designers, what lessons can we learn from this? First, throw out the idea of 1/3 scale. The AG® world simply isn’t at 1/3 scale. Instead — with the exception of things that relate to the doll's head — look for items that are between 25% and 30% of their full size counterparts. Second, start to pay attention to the sizes of real items, so you can evaluate potential doll versions. Tables are 30 inches tall, chair seats are between 16 1/2 and 17 1/2 inches tall. Counters are 36 inches tall, etc. It helps to carry a tape measure with you everywhere, although people may start looking at you funny as you measure the water goblet and dinner plate in a restaurant. But let 'em look — you're a designer!

The really big take-away from this analysis is to work with your doll. Even with all the numbers we had, we wouldn't have figured out the seated height difference without seeing it on an actual doll. If you can't bring a doll with you when you shop, mark a tape measure with the doll’s dimensions — overall height, waist height, shoulder height and head — and keep it in your wallet. And when you're at home, remember to keep putting dolls in your scene or next to your piece of furniture. Then tweak the design until it looks right.

Which is to say... play with your dolls. And of course, have fun doing it!

Tutorial: Paint Paris Red!

Now that you have an idea what to look for scale-wise in DIY or found objects for your Grace Thomas® doll, how do you make those objects look like they belong in her world? The key is her color palette. The Grace Thomas® color palette is unique: timeless, elegantly feminine and incredibly specific.

Here at Lee & Pearl, we've put together the Bonjour, Paris Fabric & Trim Kit to perfectly match that unique palette. Not only can you make clothes for your doll using this kit, you can make seat cushions, curtains and napkins as well. But in preparation for upcoming tutorials in which we will show you how to make non-fabric accessories with the same Girl of the Year® style, here's a list of paints and supplies you might want to have on hand to perfectly reproduce both the COLOR and the FINISH of the expensive American Girl® originals.

  1. Sandpaper
    Essential for a good finish, we highly recommend sanding before any painting project to smooth and remove splinters. We also recommend light sanding between paint coats to get rid of brush marks and improve adhesion. Consider sanding the same way you'd consider pressing in a garment pattern: it's a simple step that can take your work from ordinary to professional. Just be sure to wipe the item after sanding with a lint-free rag to get rid of dust before painting. For doll-scale projects, consider having on hand the following "grit" levels of sandpaper: 220, 320 and 400 in regular or wet/dry. Use the sandpaper in order from the smaller number (coarser grit) to the larger number (finer grit) to further refine your finish.

  2. Primers
    We recommend using primer to prepare your surfaces for painting. Two of our favorites are the Martha Stewart Gesso — which works with canvas, wood and plastic — and the Martha Stewart Metal Primer. You can use spray primers as well, though the gessos have the bonus that they can be applied easily in a small area, indoors. And remember: two or three thin coats are better than one thick coat. Those thin coats will dry quickly and not add much time to your project. Five or ten minutes between thin coats is usually enough.

  3. Black and White Acrylic Craft Paint
    There's a lot of black and white in Grace’s world. Our favorite black and white paints are the Americana brand "Lamp (Ebony) Black" and "Snow (Titanium) White." These are matte paints with excellent adhesion, leveling, and coverage properties. We find the Americana Lamp (Ebony) Black also works as a chalkboard paint. In fact, we like it better than the Martha Stewart chalkboard paint.

  4. Colored Acrylic Craft Paint
    Acrylic craft paint can be used on wood, plastic or metal as long as you have a properly primed surface (see Nos. 1 and 2, above). In Grace's world, aqua blue and lipstick red are key colors. To perfectly match those colors in Grace’s Bistro Set, we recommend FolkArt brand Acrylic Paint in "#2548 Apple Red" and FolkArt brand Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Paint in "#2921 Aqua."

  5. Pearlescent White Acrylic Paint
    This one is optional, but we love using the Lumière by Jacquard brand Lightbody Metallic Acrylic in "Pearlescent White" on our faux marble bistro table top to help the surface catch glints of light the way real marble does. Jacquard Lumière paints are true multi-surface finishes, and work well on leather and fabric as well as wood and primed metal or plastic. They're a bit more expensive than craft store acrylics, but we find ourselves reaching for them all the time and highly recommend keeping a few in your collection.

  6. Sealer and Top Coat
    Like sanding and priming at the beginning of a project, we highly recommend top coat sealing at the end. Americana brand Multi-Purpose Sealer — which has a semi-gloss finish — is one of our favorites.

With these paints and supplies on hand, you'll be ready to add Parisian style to any doll's world, and color all the supplies and DIY furniture an aspiring 18” entrepreneur and baker could possibly need. Happy Painting!

FREE Printable: Bonjour, Paris Bistro Menu

While working on the Bonjour, Paris pattern and upcoming Bistro Set tutorials, the graphic design bug bit us and we had to design a wee Bistro Menu to go with the outfits and DIY accessories. As a final Newsletter freebie, we've included the download link for this PDF file below. Enjoy!

We've test printed the menu on both color laser and color inkjet printers, using ordinary bond paper in each case. Once printed, trim between the crop marks as shown below, fold in half and glue or double-stick-tape the two sides together for a two-sided card menu.

Trimmed and folded, this menu should be 1 1/2" wide x 2 1/4" high — which is the same in doll scale as this sort of table-top card menu should be. We also think this size looks particularly good in a doll's hand, and fits nicely in the pockets of our Pattern #1033: Bonjour, Paris chef's apron. If you prefer a larger menu, refer to your printer's manual for scaling directions.

Click here to download the FREE Bonjour, Paris Bistro Menu printable.

Note: Our download management system may ask for your email address. If you're already on our mailing list, use the same address that you signed up with.

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